Why do the mountains compel us so much? Their beauty, grandeur, danger or simply “because it's there?”
There are many explanations but one thing is for sure, if you hear the call, you must climb. People around the world have their different reasons for climbing and also different objectives along the way. No matter what they choose, they set lofty goals which require much preparation, physical and mental.
Climbing to the top of the world’s Seven Summits – the highest point on each of the seven continents – takes these goals to the extreme. And extreme is putting it mildly. Only about 500 people have achieved the feat since the idea of doing so was first conceived in the 1950s.
Despite (or because of) the myriad challenges associated with climbing the Seven Summits, it remains one of mountaineering’s most coveted objectives. A substantial portion of those who do achieve the feat go on to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam by reaching the North and South Poles as well.
History of Climbing the Seven Summits
The first person to complete the Seven Summits was the American businessman, Richard Bass, who climbed Aconcagua (South America), Denali (North America), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Elbrus (Europe), Mount Vinson (Antarctica) and Mount Kosciuszko (Oceania/Australasia) in 1983. He completed the feat two years later after reaching the summit of Everest.
The famed Italian mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, was the second person to climb the Seven Summits, after reaching the top of Antarctica’s Mount Vinson in 1986.
However, Messner argued that the Carstensz Pyramid, located on the Indonesian portion of the island of New Guinea, was taller and more technical than Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko and should be included instead (though for the sake of posterity, he climbed both).
As a result of the disagreement, there are now two variations of the Seven Summits – the Bass List and Messner List. However, six of the seven peaks are the same. Mount Kosciuszko is a very easy, non-technical climb so many followers of the Messner List climb it anyways.
1| Mount Everest
Towering high above the border between Nepal and Tibet (China), Mount Everest is the crown jewel of the Seven Summits. Rising to an elevation at which commercial jets fly, Everest is the tallest mountain in Asia and of course; the world.
Keep reading: How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest?
As a result, It is also the most frequently climbed 8000er – the 14 mountains in South and Central Asia that exceed 8,000 metres (26,200 feet) in elevation. While the world’s highest peak is not considered to be among the toughest 8000ers to climb, Everest is by far the most challenging of the Seven Summits.
Challenges of climbing Everest
Mount Everest is not an overly technical mountain, with climbers only needing to have intermediate-level snow and ice climbing abilities and previous experience with ladder and fixed-rope climbing.
The real challenge presented by Everest is the cold and especially the altitude. Once a climber has reached 8,000 metres above sea level, they are officially in the death zone. At these elevations, there is about one-third the amount of oxygen in the air as there is at sea level and everything becomes more difficult – eating, sleeping, walking, climbing and decision making.
It is also harder for the body to perform basic metabolic functions that keep it warm, which is why cold is the other main challenge. With an average temperature at the top of -40 °C (-40 ºF), keeping warm is imperative to a successful ascent.
How to get to Everest
Mount Everest sits at the very heart of Sagarmatha National Park, in the remote reaches of the eastern Himalayas. As a result, there are no paved roads on the Nepalese side of the border.
Instead, climbers will fly to Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) in Kathmandu and meet the guide there. From the capital, another domestic flight is taken to Lukla. From here, it takes about two weeks to trek to base camp.
From the Tibetan (Chinese) side of the border, most expeditions begin with a flight to Lhasa Gonggar Airport (LXA). Most guides will opt to meet you here and provide road transport directly to the base camp. However, it is also possible to fly into Kathmandu and drive to the northern base camp.
Due to strict entry restrictions in Tibet (both a Chinese visa and a separate Tibetan visa are required), the north route up Mount Everest is taken far less frequently.
Routes to the top of Everest
The South Col Route from Nepal is the most popular route to climb Mount Everest. The northeast ridge route, from the Tibetan (Chinese) side of the border is both more technically challenging and logistically difficult.
The South Col Route begins from the Mount Everest Base Camp. Over the course of the first couple of weeks of the expedition, climbers will acclimate by climbing up to Camp I (6,065 m/19,900 ft) and Camp II.
The section between Base Camp and Camp I is known as the Khumbu Icefall and is one of the most dangerous portions of the climb. To overcome the icefall, climbers will need to traverse a series of seracs, crevasses and shifting blocks of ice.
Once at Camp I, climbers will make their way up the Western Cwm to Camp II (6,500 m/21,300 ft), which sits at the base of the Lhotse Face. From Camp II, climbers ascend a series of fixed ropes up the Lhotse Face until arriving at Camp III (7,470 m/24,500 ft).
Between Camp III and Camp IV (7,920 m/26,000 ft), climbers will traverse the Geneva Spur – an anvil-shaped rock formation – and the Yellow Band, both of which require climbing up fixed rope.
Camp IV sits on the South Col and is where the death zone begins. From here, climbers will begin the summit push at about midnight, making a 1,000 metre (3,300-foot) vertical ascent that involves climbing through deep snow and along exposed ridgelines.
On the other side of the mountain, the northeast ridge route is considerably shorter as a paved road leads most of the way to the base camp (5,180m/16,990 ft).
After acclimatising, climbers will ascend the eastern medial moraine of the Rongbuk Glacier to reach Camp II (6,100 m/20,000 ft). From here, climbers continue to ascend to the base of the north col, where Camp III (6,500 m/21,300 ft), also known as advanced base camp, is set up.
To reach Camp IV, climbers will ascend a set of fixed ropes to climb the glacier that leads up onto the north col, and continue ascending the rocky north ridge to reach Camp V (7,775 m/25,500 ft). From Camp V, climbers ascend the north face of Everest diagonally, arriving at the base of the Yellow Band and setting up Camp VI (8,230 m/27,000 ft).
Starting at midnight the following morning, climbers will ascend the three steps of the summit pyramid, using a mix of scrambling and climbing ladders before arriving at the summit ridge and continuing on to the top.
- Continent: Asia
- Location: Nepal, Tibet (China)
- Elevation: 8,848 m (29,029 ft)
- Duration: 2 months
- Climbing season: April to May
- Average price: $59,500
Along with being the highest peak in South America, the Stone Sentinel is also the tallest mountain in the Southern and Western Hemispheres.
Keep reading: Top 10 South American Mountaineering Destinations
Despite its massive size, Aconcagua is considered to be one of the easiest of the Seven Summits to climb. No technical mountaineering skills are required to reach the top via the normal route. For more advanced climbers, however, there is a more technical way up as well.
Challenges of climbing Aconcagua
While the technical difficulty on Aconcagua is quite low, the altitude and cold weather are the factors that make climbing the mountain the most difficult. Unfortunately, injuries related to altitude sickness and the cold are not uncommon during the climbing season.
To mitigate the effects of altitude sickness, most guides recommend spending 20 days trying to climb the peak, with various days spent climbing up and down the side of the mountain to acclimate properly.
How to get to Aconcagua
After flying into Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport (MDZ) in Mendoza, climbers will meet with the guide and transfer to the base camp at Plaza de Mulas. Located 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of the provincial capital, the vast majority of trips to the summit of Aconcagua start from here.
Routes to the top of Aconcagua
The main route up Aconcagua is known as the normal route and follows the northeast ridgeline all the way up the mountain. The route can be hiked with only a few sections of scrambling involved.
There are five camps in between the base camp and the summit, which are used during the acclimatization period. On summit day, most climbers head from the fourth camp up to the top and back down again.
For more advanced climbers, the Polish Glacier Traverse route is quite popular. Starting from the Vacas valley, the route ascends via the far steeper southern face of the mountain and requires a mix of technical snow, ice and rock climbing. Most climbers spend about 17 days ascending and descending this route.
- Continent: South America
- Location: Argentina
- Elevation: 6,961 m (22,838 ft)
- Duration: 20 days
- Climbing season: November to March
- Average price: $6,800
Situated in the heart of the Alaska Range, Denali is one of the largest mountains on Earth. Along with being the tallest peak in the United States and the rest of North America, it is also the third most prominent in the world.
Challenges of climbing Denali
Due to its remote location, climbing the mountain requires a massive logistical effort. Climbers will need to pull sleds full of technical gear, food, camping equipment and clothing from the base camp up and down the mountain to the high camps.
Keep reading: Top 10 Mountaineering Destinations in the U.S.
Once on the mountain, even the easiest route to the summit requires technical snow, ice and glacier climbing skills. Would-be climbers will need a combination of some rope skills, avalanche safety training and know how to use an ice axe as well as crampons.
How to get to Denali
Denali is located about 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Anchorage. As a result, most trips begin with a flight to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC). Most guides will top to meet here and charter another flight into the homonymous national park, usually landing close to the base camp of the respective route.
Routes to the top of Denali
Overall, there are four different routes that are most commonly used to climb the peak. The easiest of these routes is West Buttress, which also makes it the most commonly climbed route.
The West Buttress route starts from the Kahiltna Glacier and steadily ascends the mountain. While there are no overly technical sections on this route, an intermediate level of snow and ice climbing is required. Most of the route is exposed, which makes it challenging when hauling the gear up to the high camps. Overall, this route presents the lowest level of danger from crevasses and avalanches.
Another popular route on the western side of Denali is the West Rib. This route is far steeper and slightly more technical than the West Buttress. Its main appeal is that it is less crowded than the other route. However, the West Rib offers very few retreats or escape points, making it far more dangerous during bad weather or an avalanche.
From the southern side of the mountain, it is possible to take the Cassin Ridge all the way to the summit. Considered one of the 50 classic climbs in North America, the route requires a mix of snow, ice and rock climbing to reach the summit with few escape points along the way. As a result, it is best reserved for experienced climbers.
Prior to the establishment of the West Buttress route, the Muldrow Glacier route was the one most commonly taken to the summit of Denali. While the route only requires intermediate-level snow and ice climbing, it is far longer and more strenuous. On the approach, climbers will need to haul sleds over Denali pass before even beginning to climb the peak.
- Continent: North America
- Location: United States
- Elevation: 6,194 m (20,322 ft)
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Climbing season: May to July
- Average price: $10,200
Located in northeastern Tanzania and rising above the Eastern Rift Mountains, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the continent and is widely considered to be the easiest of the Seven Summits (of the Messner List) to climb.
Keep reading: Top 5 Climbing Destinations in East Africa
Along with being Africa’s highest point, Kilimanjaro is also home to an array of different landscapes. Climbers will pass through tropical rainforest, savanna and alpine terrain, all en route to the summit.
Challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro
While no technical mountaineering skills are needed to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the mountain presents plenty of other challenges.
Beginning from about sea level, Kilimanjaro is the fourth most prominent mountain on Earth. As a result, the climbing can be quite steep and altitude is gained very quickly. Properly acclimatising prior to and during the climb can be the difference between success and failure.
Temperatures also steadily decrease as elevation is gained. While the bottom of the peak is hot and humid the top is frequently below freezing. Coming prepared with all the correct clothing and layers is also crucial to success.
How to get to Kilimanjaro
Most trips to Kilimanjaro will begin with a flight to Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). Most guides will either opt to meet you here or in the nearby city of Arusha.
From either of these two starting points, climbers begin their expedition to the top of the volcanic massif by transferring to one of the various trailheads inside the national park.
Routes to the top of Kilimanjaro
Overall, there are six major routes that lead from various sides of the massif up to Uhuru, the tallest of Kilimanjaro’s three summits: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, the Northern Circuit, Rongai and Umbwe.
Of these, the Marangu route has the reputation for being the easiest and is, therefore, the most commonly used. It is also the only route with the option of sleeping in mountain huts all the way up the peak. However, since the Marangu route is one of the shortest and steepest, it also allows for little time to acclimatise. As a result, the success rate on this route is much lower.
Instead, the Machame route is generally considered to be the easiest, though taking it is longer and therefore costs more money. The route takes climbers through five different climate zones and while it still has steep sections and requires a high level of physical fitness, it also has the highest rates of success.
Starting from the west of Kilimanjaro, the Lemosho route is one of the more challenging routes and as a result is also among the lesser-traveled. The route involves more steep climbing than the others but yields spectacular views of Kilimanjaro’s diverse landscapes.
Regardless of the route that is taken, the toughest part of the climb comes at the end. On summit day, climbers begin their steep ascent beside the summit’s glacier before dawn in order to reach the top of Uhuru before midday.
- Continent: Africa
- Location: Tanzania
- Elevation: 5,895 m/19,341 ft
- Duration: 1 week
- Climbing season: June to October, January to March
- Estimated cost: $2,200
5| Mount Elbrus
Keep reading: Top 10 European Trekking and Mountaineering Destinations
Towering above the surrounding peaks in the range, Mount Elbrus provides plenty of routes for climbers of various levels. A chairlift that sits on one of the mountain’s flanks provides easy access to the starting point of the normal route, while more remote and tougher ascents await on the northern and southern sides of the peak.
Challenges of climbing Mount Elbrus
Climbing Mount Elbrus via the normal route requires some technical rock and snow climbing abilities, rated Grade III. However, the altitude and weather tend to be the most challenging parts of the ascent.
With a total of 4,741 metres (15,554 feet) from the base to the summit, Mount Elbrus is the tenth most prominent mountain in the world and as a result, requires climbers to acclimate either before the ascent or on the slopes of the mountain.
Along with its elevation, the weather on Mount Elbrus also presents a challenge. While at higher elevations temperatures generally fall below freezing, the mountain often can become quickly enshrouded in clouds, which has been known to disorient climbers. Clear skies on Elbrus can quickly become overcast and storms can descend upon the mountain rapidly.
How to get to Mount Elbrus
Most expeditions to Mount Elbrus will begin with a flight into either Mineralnye Vody Airport (MRV) or Nalchik Airport (NAL), both of which may be reached from Russia's main international airports in Moscow and St Petersburg. Most guides will opt to meet at the airport and provide transport from these cities to the start of the trip.
Routes to the top of Mount Elbrus
Most climbers opt to tackle Mount Elbrus via the normal route, which usually begins from the Garabashi hut or Leaprus hut.
Due to the cable car, both of these are quite advanced starting positions and may require climbers who have not already done so to spend some time acclimating, usually by hiking to the Pastukhova Rocks.
On summit day, climbers will begin the ascent at midnight. The first leg of the trip involves hiking for 1.5 to 2 hours up to the Pastukhova rocks. From here, climbers will continue ascending 3 to 4 hours to the Saddle and, from here, a final steep ascent of 45 minutes to reach the summit.
Other popular routes up to the top of Elbrus include the Kiukurtliu Route, which is longer and more challenging. Starting beneath the cable car station, the route takes climbers west over one of the mountain’s 22 glaciers and on to Kiukurtliu Pass.
Just prior to arriving at the pass, climbers will ascend the south spur of the Kiukurtliu Cupola and continue to traverse the broad glaciated saddle. From here, climbers will overcome one more spur before turning northwest and climbing to the summit.
- Continent: Europe
- Location: Russia
- Elevation: 5,642 m (18,510 ft)
- Duration: 1 to 2 weeks
- Climbing season: May to September
- Average price: $3,600
6| Mount Vinson
Keep reading: Top Polar Mountaineering and Ski Touring Destinations
Composed of several summits, the highest of these is known as Mount Vinson - the highest mountain in Antarctica. Despite being the second shortest of the Seven Summits, Mount Vinson is the eighth most prominent mountain on earth, basically rising from sea level to its summit.
Despite the challenges associated with climbing the peak, it is a truly sublime experience. Few scenes can match the beauty of the pristine and uninterrupted Antarctic wilderness.
Challenges of climbing Mount Vinson
While Mount Vinson is far from the tallest or most technically difficult of the Seven Summits to attain, it presents various unique challenges.
Its remote location means there is very little infrastructure nearby. All gear needs to be hauled to and from the peak via sleighs over the ice. There is also very little margin for error as emergency services are non-existent on the continent.
Along with its remote location, the climate is particularly harsh. In spite of having sunlight nearly 24 hours per day during the trip, the temperature rarely rises above freezing and with wind-chill often feels far colder. Storms are also fairly frequent occurrences on the peninsula, with few places well-suited for seeking shelter.
How to get to Mount Vinson
Any expedition to Mount Vinson generally begins with a flight into the international airport in Punta Arenas (PUQ), Chile. Most guides will opt to meet in the city and charter a flight to Union Glacier in Antarctica. From here, climbers will transfer to the base camp at Branscomb Glacier.
Routes to the top of Mount Vinson
There is one main route that is used to climb to the summit of Mount Vinson. Starting from base camp, climbers will ascend the Branscomb Glacier until reaching the low camp.
From here, climbers will make a technical ice climbing ascent of a ribbed ice wall before continuing to traverse another glacier toward the high camp, which sits on a flat spot just west of the summit.
From the high camp, climbers will ascend the final cwm to the summit proper, before heading back down. Overall, the ascent requires some technical ice climbing, but mostly entails glacier travel.
- Continent: Antarctica
- Elevation: 4,892 m (16,050 ft)
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Climbing season: December to January
- Average price: $47,600
7a| Puncak Jaya
Rising above the tropical rainforests that sprawl over Indonesia's half of the island of New Guinea, Puncak Jaya – also known as the Carstensz Pyramid – is the highest peak in Oceania / Australasia and the shortest of the Seven Summits of the Messner List.
Due to its remote location, tropical climate and high level of technical difficulty, the massive limestone escarpment is often considered to be the second toughest of the Seven Summits to climb after Everest.
Challenges of climbing Puncak Jaya
Along with the advanced level of technical multi-pitch rock climbing that is required to reach the summit, Puncak Jaya also presents various logistical challenges.
The peak is located in the heart of the jungle in Indonesia’s West Papua province on the shared island of New Guinea. A combination of little supporting infrastructure around the peak and political instability in the region has made Puncak Jaya the least climbed of the Seven Summits.
Various types of permits are needed both from federal and local authorities to climb as well. As a result, it is best to go with a local and reputable guiding agency, which will make it easier to cut through the red tape. (You can find those guides right here, on ExpedReview!)
How to get to Puncak Jaya
Most trips to Punak Jaya will begin with a flight into the remote Illaga region. This is generally the last flight of a three-legged trip, which also includes flying into Bali and then transferring to Timika.
From Illaga, climbers will need to trek for four days to the base camp of the mountain, hauling all necessary equipment and gear.
Routes to the top of Puncak Jaya
From the base camp, there is one main route that is used to get to the summit and, as a result, is known as the normal route.
Starting from the base of the peak, climbers will make a steep multi-pitch ascent (about 75 degrees) interspersed with sections of scrambling until arriving at a ridge line two-thirds of the way to the summit.
Once arriving at the narrow and sharp ridge line, climbers can follow it all the way to the summit. However, the climb along the ridge line can be quite difficult, with wide cracks that will need to be climbed into and out of as well as very loose scree at the very end and top of the summit.
- Continent: Oceania / Australasia
- Location: Indonesia
- Elevation: 4,884 m (16,024 ft)
- Duration: 2 to 3 weeks
- Climbing season: December to March, June to August
- Average Price: $17,400
7b| Mount Kosciuszko
The shortest of the Bass List of the Seven Summits, Mount Kosciuszko is a modest peak at the heart of Australia’s Snowy Mountains.
Situated on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Canberra, Mount Kosciuszko is an incredibly popular hiking destination in the summer and an even more sought-after ski spot during the winter months.
The hiking trail to reach the summit of the peak begins from Charlotte Pass, which sits a few kilometres northeast of the mountain. From here, hikers will walk up to Rawson Pass before making the final ascent to the summit.
No technical gear is needed to climb Mount Kosciuszko and the peak is perfectly appropriate for moderately fit hikers. Of the summits on the Bass List, Mount Kosciuszko is the only one that can be climbed without a guide. To add some extra adventure to this trek, we recommend going on a nice day in the dead of winter when it's covered in snow and it can get VERY chilly!
- Continent: Oceania / Australasia
- Location: Australia
- Elevation: 2,228 m (7,310 ft)
- Duration: 1 day
- Climbing season: November to May
- Average price: $250
Climbing one or all of the Seven Summits should be at the top of any mountaineering enthusiast's bucket list. Compare prices, trips and read verified reviews on ExpedReview for free. It’s never too early to start planning your next mountaineering adventure!